Am I responsible for water damage?
March 8, 2007 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Do I owe my downstairs neighbor damages for a leak in my apartment building?

I recently received a letter from my downstairs neighbor's insurance company "requesting" me to pay $1,600 for damages from a leak, claiming their "investigation reveals that [I] may be legally responsible for this loss. " There is documented history going back almost 2 years of water in my neighbor's apartment, and every time our landlord has responded by sending a plumber who checks out our pipes and declares our apartment leak free, only to leak again. This leak occured while both myself and my roommate were out of the apartment (and had been for several days) and we are relatively sure that it is not our fault. The letter sent to us was quite vague, never actually saying it was our fault.
So, my questions are:
1. Who should we contact? The landlord is unresponsive (a massive city student rental agency). I have insurance, but I feel it's my landlord's fault, not mine. I am wary of calling the neighbor's insurance agency, because I fear I might say the wrong thing and somehow implicate myself.
2. Are we the ones responsible for this damage? My landlord has a terrible track record and the building isn't doing so well.
3. What is the best course of action for me to persue?

Thank you for your responses. I am new to the world of rentals. I am in Phildelphia, in case that matters. I will be checking this post frequently to respond to any questions, and my emails in my profile.
posted by nursegracer to Law & Government (10 answers total)
IANAL, but as a renter, I can't see how you'd be liable for this. You should tell them to take it up with the landlord - you are not responsible for upkeep of the plumbing. If they are persistent, you may need to lawyer up.
posted by gnutron at 2:36 PM on March 8, 2007

Seems pretty open and shut- if the leak occured due to the plumbing in the apartment, then the property owner would be liable, not you. What you're seeing is a phishing attempt, in hopes that you'll actually pay money. The insurance company should be contacting the property owners, but I'll bet they have better lawyers than you do.

My upstairs neighbors water heater busted a couple of months ago and leaked down into the front hall of my apartment; the property owners were responsible for clean up, drywalling, painting, and carpet cleaning. I didn't lose anything of value (there's nothing in the front hall except a couple of jackets in the front closet), but if I had I can't see how the upstairs neighbor would have been at fault.

I imagine, lacking other information, you may want to contact a tenant's rights association in your city to find out on the cheap whether you might have any liability- highly doubtful, and that would help you know if you can discard or ignore it without you having to pay $$$ to a lawyer yourself.
posted by hincandenza at 2:38 PM on March 8, 2007

As long as you weren't negligent in causing the damage it's not your responsibility. I wouldn't even respond to them, as it's the landlord's responsibility and they probably are going after you because they got the run-around from him/her.

If you feel the need to respond, just send them the contact info of the building owner/landlord and tell them that they need to contact him/her/them.
posted by langeNU at 2:38 PM on March 8, 2007

Unless you left the water running, and this was the cause of the leak, I can't imagine you'd be at fault. How long has this been going on? It's possible the insurance company has been unable to receive satisfaction from the landlord and is just bullying you to see if you will pay without a fight.

IANAL, but the language, "may be legally responsible for this loss" is weak, and I doubt they have any evidence that you *are* at fault, or they would say so.
posted by o2b at 2:42 PM on March 8, 2007

Forward it to that unresponsive landlord, certified. With a note saying, in so many words, "handle this."

Forward the landlord's info to the insurance company, certified, saying, in so many words, "Call the owner."

Document everything, just in case. Try to recollect times and dates for other issues with the pipes, dates the plumber has been there, etc.

Don't let anyone talk you into giving up money or accepting blame. This is an old trick, and the housing in heavily student-populated areas of Philly is particularly notorious for this sort of neglience.
posted by desuetude at 2:52 PM on March 8, 2007

desuetude has it. Do everything in writing, certified mail, and keep copies.

If they were to persist in hassling you, you would write them and demand documentation of "their investigation" which suggests that you "may" (!!) be responsible.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:15 PM on March 8, 2007

On second thought, maybe don't send your landlord the insurance letter. (Don't want to let him think he can let you take the fall for his negligence.)

Just send a letter to the insurance co giving the landlord's address and saying "We are tenants and have no control over building maintenance. You must take your complaint up with the owner. Here is his information."
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:22 PM on March 8, 2007

They are probably just trying to harass you in order to put more pressure on the landlord. I would simply deny any responsibility on your part, don't make any claims or excuses in writing. Just stonewall them, you aren't responsible for the leak anyways, it's all on the landlord.
posted by sophist at 3:29 PM on March 8, 2007

I think all you want to do is mail a brief note to the insurance company with your landlord's contact information. As per LobsterMitten.

Then throw their letter out, and forget about it.

Some months ago we came home from dinner to find water pouring in through the light fixture in the bathroom; the seal around our upstairs' neighbours' toilet had given up. It would never have occurred to me to go after the neighbours had anything really been damaged.

On second thought, if you get on well with your neighbours, maybe have a word with them. I'd be irked if my insurance company was wasting their time going after anybody but the landlord in a situation like that.
posted by kmennie at 4:11 PM on March 8, 2007

It's very likely that both you AND the landlord got the letter. The tenant's insurance company would send you the letter just in case the landlord claims it was something that you did that caused or contributed to the accident.

I would follow LobsterMitten's second paragraph recommendation, and I would contact my own insurance carrier, probably through the agent. You are obligated to notify your carrier in the event that you receive notice of a potential claim. You will want to send a copy of the reply letter to the tenant's insurer when you do so. Keep copies of everything.
posted by megatherium at 4:37 AM on March 9, 2007

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